Dawn of Discovery (Wii) review
"Another feature that sets Dawn of Discovery apart from other simulation titles such as Civilization IV or SimCity is the occasional focus on maritime exploration. Instead of settling a single continent, you'll develop a bunch of smaller islands. This actually provides a unique dynamic, since you frequently come up against space constraints and also have to consider different fertility levels. For example, you might first land on an island where grain grows particularly well, but as your colony evolves from a simple fishing village into a city center, the people who live there will start craving hot spices, fashionable clothing and so forth."
When Dawn of Discovery arrived at HonestGamers headquarters in two forms--one for Wii and one for the DS--I was thrilled. I like games about the age of exploration, I like building ships and I like colonizing. Uncharted Waters, Sid Meier's Pirates and Europa Universalis III have all taken turns serving as obsessions of mine, but years separated each of those excellent releases and another suitable offering hadn't come along in quite some time. I was anxious to see if Ubisoft had struck gold with this newest title.
First impressions were iffy. The title screen looked like a Disney cityscape and had rousing music, which I liked, but the process of creating a new file felt awkward. The player is forced to choose between a bunch of character avatars and is given no explanation as to what this accomplishes. I had no idea who was who and there were no stats in evidence, so I ultimately chose Richard Bangs because his name amused me. Something like 40 hours of play later, I still have no idea what impact that choice had on my game, if any. It made no sense. Fortunately, things improved quickly from there.
Dawn of Discovery is divided in two modes. One is the "Story" campaign and the other is an endless option that plays out in much the same way but without as many interruptions and specific objectives. I began with the former, which presents players with a short summary of a simple situation: a kingdom called the occident is running out of food and land. It will either have to settle islands in its possession or its people will starve. A third option is to declare war on other kingdoms and take what it wants by force, but that doesn't interest the hero or his father. The king sends forth his sons William (whom you control) and Edward (whom you will come to despise) to settle the islands.
As the game proceeds from there, you're introduced to a few more characters. Evelyn is a saucy military type who knows a lot about the ways of war and the practicalities of travel. Cornelius is an advisor prone to sea sickness who tends to know a great deal about turning resources into settlements and taxable income. With those two companions, you'll have the information that you need to progress through the campaign. For the remainder of the adventure, they'll outline your newest assignments (which you can then view in a logbook if you forget anything) and entertain you with their antics. There's a lot to wrap your mind around if you want to excel at Dawn of Discovery, but solid voice acting and smart writing make the learning process simple. Besides that, the pacing is such that you'll seldom have trouble understanding just what is expected of you.
Besides its surprising accessibility, another feature that sets Dawn of Discovery apart from other simulation titles such as Civilization IV or SimCity is the occasional focus on maritime exploration. Instead of settling a single continent, you'll develop a bunch of smaller islands. This actually provides a unique dynamic, since you frequently come up against space constraints and also have to consider different fertility levels. For example, you might first land on an island where grain grows particularly well, but as your colony evolves from a simple fishing village into a city center, the people who live there will start craving hot spices, fashionable clothing and so forth. This means that you constantly have to be thinking about how to get to that next island.
When you first land in a region, your ship is turned into a warehouse. This is your starting point. From there, you must build roads to connect other building types. Most essential are the houses, which require almost no resources to construct and will award you with the gift of tax-paying citizens. Income is nice, but you will immediately need to put it to use as you work to provide other buildings that can generate the lumber, stone and food necessary for expansion. There's a delicate balance that you must be careful to strike at all times and if you're not careful, you'll construct a house of cards that will suddenly come tumbling down all around you. After all, there's no point throwing up twenty houses if you haven't left yourself room for public buildings--which allow more people to live within a single dwelling--or dairies and pig farms.
When you're ready to expand your borders, a map that points not only to known islands but to their specific attributes will help you to decide where to land next. Often, there will be sections of a given region that are unavailable until you accomplish certain achievements, such as developing any one island until it reaches a certain civilization level or exploring the high seas for a sufficient number of treasure chests while avoiding the corsairs that are hoping to rob you. The setup can seem limiting at first, but it serves the valuable purpose of ensuring that the player is never overwhelmed by too many choices. There's always a good option to proceed. You just have to be smart enough to see it.
Not everything that the game does gets a glowing recommendation, however. Too often, you're forced to revisit past successes to fix new problems that were out of your control. Build a city with perfectly laid out blocks of residential housing and grain fields, for instance, and you'll advance to a new civilization level... at which point the people who loved you before now suddenly are threatening to move unless you build them a new building type that has only just now become available to you. They'll start packing their bags and depriving you of income if you don't do something immediately. No matter how well you've set things up to that point, you can lose nearly everything if you aren't quick to react. Another irritant is that a scripted event that you couldn't anticipate--such as a corsair invasion or the outcome of a brotherly rivalry--can deprive you of your most precious resources and send everything crashing down around you.
Speaking of "crashing," there is a significant bug in the "Story" mode that warrants a mention even though it probably won't affect most players. During the second portion of the fifth chapter, access to battleships is granted as the game takes a sudden military turn. There's also a new objective: build four of the beefier vessels and load them with troops. Every time I completed construction on the second ship, however, the game crashed. The phrase "Critical Script Error!" would appear on-screen and I had to power down the system. I made numerous and varied attempts to get around this, including taking steps to simplify my colony in case that was the issue. Nothing worked. Finally, I restarted the chapter. Doing so allowed me to play through the event that formerly generated the script error. The culprit, it turns out, was the game's scripted introduction of the plague. How very appropriate!
Consider it a testament to the game's strength that even though I lost something like eight hours of play, I was willing to play through the bulk of the chapter a second time and to keep going from there. Another favorable sign? My wife and brother-in-law watched me play the game and were so intrigued that when they found out that I still had a DS copy at my disposal (none of the HonestGamers freelance team seemed interested in reviewing it), they insisted that I open it so that they could play the handheld version while I continued my quest on the larger screen. Now they're as addicted to the game as I am.
It's a bit early to tell if Dawn of Discovery will have the same staying power as some of its timeless peers, but so far it's right on track. Even if it doesn't find a place in the record books, this is one of the best console simulation titles available to date. Pick up a copy now while you can still find it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 12, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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